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On Campus: Makar's season top story of 2019

Defenseman won Hobey Baker award at UMass before joining Avalanche

by Mark Divver / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

College hockey is in a good place with 2019 coming to an end.

The level of play never has been better. The number of players moving on to the NHL never has been higher. The current freshmen class includes nine players selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft.

Here are the top 10 college hockey stories of the year.

 

10. Joe Bertagna to step down

Hockey East is looking for a new commissioner after Joe Bertagna announced in July that the 2019-20 season will be his last. It's Bertagna's 23rd and final season leading Hockey East. He is the longest-serving conference commissioner in NCAA history.

 

9. Rising Arizona

In just its fourth season as a Division I program, Arizona State earned a place in the NCAA Tournament for the first time last season.

Arizona State lost 2-1 to Quinnipiac in the Midwest Regional, but established itself as a legitimate college hockey program.

 

8. David beats Goliath

Not only did Atlantic Hockey's American International College make the NCAA Tournament for the first time, as the No. 16 seed, it stunned No. 1 seed St. Cloud State 2-1 in the West Regional in Fargo, North Dakota.

AIC lost to Denver 3-0 in the next round, but it proved it could play with anyone.

 

7. Alaska schools survive

What the future holds for Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage is unknown, but the Western Collegiate Hockey Association schools dodged a bullet when the University of Alaska's Board of Regents announced in November that athletics at the state schools would continue through the 2020-21 season.

The regents backed off proposed budget cuts that would have jeopardized the hockey programs. At least for the time being, the Alaska teams are safe.

 

6. WCHA in flux

Realignment reared its ugly head with the news in June that seven of the 10 members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will be leaving the league in 2021.

Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan are exploring the formation of a new league.

Where that leaves the three other WCHA members, Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska Anchorage and Alabama Huntsville, remains to be determined.

 

5. Blue bloods fall short

A half-dozen of the legendary programs in college hockey missed the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Michigan (nine NCAA titles), North Dakota (eight), Wisconsin (six), Minnesota (five), Boston University (five) and Boston College (five) did not qualify.

Those schools regularly reel in first-round NHL draft picks and other top recruits, but in recent seasons that hasn't always translated to the kind of postseason success they have customarily enjoyed, though North Dakota won a national championship in 2016.

 

4. Early recruiting curbed

The NCAA approved rule changes in April intended to prohibit schools from recruiting players who are in their early teens.

Among other things, the rules stipulate that NCAA coaches can't make a verbal offer until the Aug. 1 before a player's junior (grade 11) year.

"The college hockey community recognized recruiting has accelerated to a point that isn't healthy for prospects, our programs or the sport as a whole," said Josh Fenton, National Collegiate Hockey Conference commissioner. The new rules were endorsed by the NHL and USA Hockey.

 

3. The rise of UMass

In three seasons, Greg Carvel has built the University of Massachusetts into a power program after two decades of mediocrity in Hockey East.

With one of the great NCAA players in recent memory in defenseman Cale Makar leading the way, the UMass won 31 games and reached the NCAA championship game, where it lost to the University of Minnesota Duluth.

It was a far cry from Carvel's first season at UMass, when his team went 5-29-2.

 

2. Minnesota Duluth repeats

After winning the national championship in 2018, Duluth did it again in 2019. They became the first repeat winner since the University of Denver in 2004 and 2005.

At the Frozen Four in Buffalo in April, Duluth defeated Providence College, then UMass in the championship game.

Under coach Scott Sandelin, Duluth has won three NCAA championships in the past nine seasons.

 

1. The Year of the Defensemen

The best player in college hockey in 2019 was Makar, winner of the 2019 Hobey Baker Award. He had 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 41 games and led Massachusetts to the Frozen Four for the first time.

Maker, who joined the Colorado Avalanche for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs after the NCAA Tournament, was part of a special group of college defensemen during the 2018-19 season. Adam Fox of Harvard (New York Rangers) and Jimmy Schuldt of St. Cloud State (Vegas Golden Knights) were runners-up to Makar for the Hobey Baker. Quinn Hughes of Michigan (Vancouver Canucks), Joseph Duszak of Mercyhurst (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Chase Priskie of Quinnipiac (Carolina Hurricanes) also were Hobey Baker finalists.

Makar is making an immediate impact in the NHL and is a strong Calder Trophy contender. Hughes is making his mark with the Canucks, as is Fox with the Rangers.

Also having solid rookie NHL seasons are former NCAA players John Marino of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who played with Fox at Harvard the past three seasons, and Mario Ferraro of the San Jose Sharks, who spent two seasons at UMass.

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